Torey L. Hayden’s “Somebody else’s kids” is a representative book on the experiences some children face in their attempt to reach normality and become an integrated part of the society. The author manages to convey a very strong message on the sensibility of children with deficiencies.
The most important aspect of the book represents its real life feeling. Indeed, the aspects presented in the work, the entire events which take place in the classroom are real events that actually took place in the real life. This provides a true sense of emotional experiences that captivate the reader and makes the book an enjoyable piece of literature.
The plot in itself is not very complicated, nor complex. The book portrays the experiences of Torey, a teacher with a background in helping children with problems, (autistic children in particular), to undergo a recovery treatment at school. The events and the way in which everybody behaves in the book is representative for the challenges such children face in their everyday life.
The actual story revolves around Torey, the teacher and her four children, each with a particular problem. One day her help was required by the head of the school to assist in a matter which others were not able to. More precisely, “I was thinking that maybe you could work with him special. Like you did with those other kids you used to have” (Hayden, 1981).
Therefore the actual plot begins at the moment in which Torey accepted the request and modified her entire working class to accommodate the child “I cleaned the room for this boy. I put all the breakables out of reach, placed all the games with small swallowable pieces in a closet, moved desks and tables around to leave a running space where he and I could tackle one another on more intimate terms than I had even needed to do with the resource students” (Hayden, 1981). This extra care clearly revealed a deep passion for her job, as well as an increased concern for the boy who would come to be helped. This is one of the first teaching tips to be learned from the book.
This passage is rather touching not necessarily through what the author is describing but rather through the concern which transcend these lines. It is an important aspect because it shows the dedication and commitment of the teacher to the cause. In this sense, the book points out the way in which teachers in these situations should behave: with compassion and care.
Each child in his or her way represented a special adventure for the teacher. Even so, their unique nature allowed Torey to become attached to them and thus to include them in her life. This inclusion is crucial for the rehabilitation process of the children. As she pointed out in the beginning of the book, “I had not found resource teaching particularly fulfilling. I missed the contained classroom setting. I missed not having my own group of children. But by far the most I missed the eerie joy I always felt working with the emotionally disturbed” (Hayden, 1981). The possibility of working again with children, who were, among other things, emotionally sensitive, represented her most important achievement and throughout this book this feeling is obvious.
The title is rather easy to grasp and justify. From the first lines of the book, it is obvious that the children who will eventually come to her class would no longer be “somebody else’s children” but rather her own. For the few hours they would spend together, they would be connected through a large sense of belonging to a family. Given the background of the children, and the obvious emotional problems they are experiencing, the group, as presented by Torey, was the best approach. Therefore, the title defines rather a non-definition, or a definition of what those children are not. This aspect is important because it clearly announces the connection to be created between Torey and the children, and between the children on their own. This aspects also reveals an important teaching tip because it underlines the necessity of bonding and affection for the transformation of the children.
The author marks to some extent this difference between the natural family and the one the children would eventually discover in the classroom by describing the way in which the first child was brought in the classroom by his mother. Thus, “his mother shoved him through the open door, spoke a few words to me and left. Boo now belonged to me” (Hayden, 1981). By comparison, the description the teacher which is also the author makes to the boy clearly betrays an affection which the child probably did not experience in his own home. The gentleness and the care for the details transmitted a lot of affection for the children.
The other children portrayed in the book are Tomaso, Claudia, and Lori, each of them being the result of abuse, events which marked their existence as a child and as well their adulthood. The author manages to convey a very strong message about the society as well, not only about the children and their difficulties. For instance, Lori, the 7-year-old girl, despite the fact that she is very intelligent, she suffers from brain damage and is therefore unable to read. This damage was done after a long series of physical abuses as her father had constantly beat her as a small child. Also, Tomaso is the result of the family violence he had experience, in particular the shooting of his father by his stepmother. From one foster family to another, he was unable to surpass this event and was marked for life, as he is not capable to accept this tragedy. Finally, Claudia, at only 12, is a young girl pregnant.
An important message that can be read between the lines is also connected to the way in which this experience can be related to real life events. It is not necessarily the fact that it appears to be a real life story, but it can demonstrate to be an inspirational one. The book can also be viewed from this perspective, given the fact that the issues related to children represent a very important aspect in the general policy agenda.
All these aspects reflect on the society, or at least on some parts of the society where children suffer as a result of the mistakes adults make. These in turn provides healable scars and affect the emotion capacities of a young child. This may be one of the most important messages the book conveys. Children represent the sensitive link of the chain which is the society. As young individuals, they rarely are to blame for any problems they suffer. They are in fact the responsibility of the parents which must determine and decide in their place. This is why the age of 21 conveys the message of responsibility for the adult and can therefore be tried as one. Still, as young members of the society, children are the most vulnerable elements and must be protected. Otherwise they may result in the children Torey taught and assisted.
Finally, another aspect for which the book is a valuable reading is the degree to which the author manages to transmit the love and care the children need. The entire book is a struggle to reach out to the children, to face the reticent parents, and to adapt each motion to the special needs of the children. These are some of the most important lessons that can be learned from the book and that the author is trying to convey.
However, the final part of the book, when Torey makes a summary of what the children have become, also transmits the degree to which the teacher managed to influence their lives. In this sense, each of the four children did achieve a certain progress. Thus, Lori, despite the strong efforts, she never learned to read. Still, she made progresses which cannot be quantified for her own personality and state of mind. Boo, the autistic boy managed to speak coherently. Claudia graduated valedictorian, while Tomaso became a hero after saving the lives of four children and an infant. Even if they never managed to become normal persons, with the help of their teacher, they somehow earned their place in the society and improved their own self.
The book is impressive for the messages it conveys. It shows that technique, dedication, care, and most importantly love can change persons. The experience Torey had with children with emotional problems, as well as the dedication she showed for her work proved to be the key for establishing a communication path. However, the love and care she showed to them healed part of their “wounds” and prepared them for a better life. Indeed, the title is extremely suggestive in this sense. Torey Hayden cared for these children as if they were her own, dismantled the barriers between them, and offered them the chance for a different future. In this sense, this can be seen as the best technique to help children with problems.
Hayden, L. Torey. Somebody else’s kids. New York: Harper Collins Publisher, 1981.
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